Key Chords And Chord Patterns

Critical Concepts In The Study Of Chords

The following video explains and details 3 critical concepts in the study of chords:

  1. The Concept Of Key: Essentially a key is a scale and its associated harmonies.
  2. Tonality: The general overall sound of something, its “flavor”.
  3. Cadences: a feeling of rest and resolution produced by switching chords.

Orbits For Chords In A Key

When someone says the word key they are most likely referring to a scale. In this leson you will be studying the harmonies of (or chords associated with) C major and G major scales. The exercise below details the chords associated with the key of C. I call this type of exercise a chord orbit because you are meant to cycle through the chords over and over again, all the while improving your ability to grip each chord shape in the wink of an eye and all the while improving your ability to hear chords as belonging together, as fitting together.

Just below you see in exercise detailing the chords native to the key of C. These chords can also be referred to as the diatonic harmony in the key of C. Practice these chords until the series you see below is effortless, instant and automatic from the standpoint of playing in fingering. Memorize the names of the chords in the key of C. It will be very helpful for your musical ear and ability to hear, to sing the solfege syllables (Do, Re, Mi etc) as you practice the chord shapes.

As you cycle through the chords memorize the chord shapes and letter names if you don’t already know them. Also notice the harmonic analysis, or the Roman numerals associated with each chord in a particular key and occasionally call the chords out by these Roman numeral names as they represent a professional musicians thinking concerning chords in a particular key. To repeat, I have written a first-class music theory course that is available here on this website. Since this is a course dealing strictly with chords and knowledge of chords I suggest you study my music theory course at the same time if the Roman numer alanalysis of a series of chords, are any of the musical terminology used here is foreign to you in any way.


Transposing means changing the key of a particular song, or even a section of the song. It is absolutely imperative that you learn to transpose a simple series of chords, called the chord progression are chord pattern and also how to transpose an entire song.

Just below you see the previous exercise transposed to the key of G. Practice and memorize these chords in the same way you did for the exercise in the key of C. Play along with these interactive illustrations until your fingers are very familiar with the chord shapes and you hear learned to expect and recognize what is coming next.

Chord Patterns & Cadences

In modern guitar music such as blues, jazz, rock and popular styles there are many tried and true chord progressions or cadences that professional songwriters and arrangers use with regularity. Quite often, this is a simple series of two, three or four chords played over and over again. I was taught to call these common knowledge chord sequences chord patterns or cadences.

It is important that you play these chord orbits often and when you play them it is also important that you experiment with these chord patterns and progressions by playing them in a variety of ways. Do them with a rock ‘n roll feeling one time and a ballad feeling the next time. Let your fingers wander backwards and forwards through all the chord patterns in this lesson frequently. Think of the chords you are learning here in these chord patterns as common knowledge musical building blocks that you will refer to time and again when playing, writing, arranging or improvising. Below there are four exercises for you to play with and familiarize your ears with the three primary chords in the keys of C and G. As you can see from the interactive illustration these three very common chords are also called the I, IV and V of the key and are the three most important cords and modern music.

After completing the exercise above your ear was more than likely reminded of many a famous song. Thinking of the chords in a particular sequence as the chords that fit together and belong with each other will also greatly increase your ability to play by ear, that is to figure songs out just by hearing them. It is also important that you think of these chords in terms of their harmonic analysis, as this is the primary way that professional musicians and writers analyze music and communicate with one another. The interactive graphic below outlines two additional classic chord patterns that should be played and memorized. Remember experimentation is the key to really understanding this lesson.



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